It is increasingly clear that the Republican Party missed a golden opportunity to use the August recess to present a unified front on immigration reform — if it could have developed one. Instead, the party will return to Washington, D.C., perhaps even more fragmented than when it left, leaving the party's urgent desire to repair its relationship with Latino voters wavering.
When the party handed out its 30-page prep document for members before the August recess, immigration was only mentioned once as a topic, the second in a pair of "messaging themes" offered in a generic "Meetup" in-district event. The party wanted members of Congress talking about the areas where they were "on offense" — health care, energy, oversight, and so on. But, as pledged by activists earlier in the summer, immigration came up.Late last week, Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee embodied the problem the party faces. At an event in his district, a young girl told the congressman that her dad was undocumented, asking him what she could do so that "he could stay" with her. His response? "The answer still kind of remains the same. We have laws and we have to follow those laws." The crowd applauded loudly.
What's a party that wants to reach out to the Latino community going to do with that? The Washington Post has an extensive report on the party's attempts to reach out to Latino voters on Spanish-language networks, profiling a young Capitol Hill staffer who works to literally translate Republican priorities into his native language. (How do you say "border security" in Spanish? "Seguridad fronteriza.") A polished, informed presentation of priorities to Latino voters is essential — and apparently appreciated.
[Party spokesman Nate] Hodson recalled holding a meeting recently with the conference chairman, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), and a longtime Spanish-language TV reporter. When it ended, “I said, thanks for coming,” Hodson said. “And [the reporter’s] statement to me was basically, ‘It’s about time.’ ”
But this also exemplifies how deeply the rift in the party runs. Just how deep the split within the party runs is embodied in McMorris Rodgers. Hers is the name stamped at the bottom of each of those 30 pages of August recess instructions in which immigration was sidelined. She is the messaging point person for the House for a party that last week voted to prioritize immigration reform — excluding a path to citizenship — and to boycott any presidential primary debates on CNN and NBC — and their Spanish-language affiliates. (The most popular Spanish-language network, Univision, remains available.)
California Republicans are at the leading edge of the repercussions the party could face if it can't resolve its attitude. While a little less than one-fifth of the state's voters were Latino in 2012, the state party is deeply concerned about how the state's population is shifting. Politico explains its difficult position.
Republicans on a national level should take notice, because players in the California GOP argue that they’re merely experiencing what states like Colorado, Nevada and Texas will experience in a few years: a drastically weakened party that’s routinely rejected by booming minority populations.
“Ultimately, it could doom the party 15, 20 years out,” said Rob Stutzman, a former top hand to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who is now one of the top Republican political advisers in the state, speaking of the perils of not completing immigration reform.
Immigration isn't the most important priority for California Latinos, one party official noted, citing polling, but it's apparently the one that largely defines how the party is perceived.
Which is why the prominence of voices opposing immigration — loudly and forcefully — are not helpful. Even if the party coalesces around an immigration bill supported among Latino voters, reversing the trend in California, it's possible that the party will be seen as having been dragged to that place. That the voices which are remembered are those of Iowa's Steve King, or of DesJarlais, or the people who showed up at a town hall meeting held by Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas. Asked by Rev. Jason Schoff, a local pastor, if she would support a pathway to citizenship, Jenkins said she would, spurring a heated response according to Breitbart.com.
The local paper reports that “grumbling” against Schoff’s pro-amnesty comments “turned to shouts” as he spoke.
“They're illegal," one person shouted.
"They're [sic] broke the law when they crossed the border," another yelled.
“Sit down,” another said to Schoff.
How do you explain that sentiment in Spanish?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.